The Power of One


Chapter Ten

Summary Chapter Ten

As the mayor is introducing Doc in the Barberton town square, a fight breaks out between the English and the Afrikaners. Doc, trembling, takes a swig of whisky and begins to play. The crowd immediately quiets and is captivated by the music. Doc plays beautifully and Peekay has never seen him so happy.


Chapter Ten is one of the novel's longest chapters, taking up almost a tenth of the novel. It carries through on Peekay's foreshadowing at the end of Chapter Nine-the loss of Doc and, in a sense, the loss of his childhood. For the first time in his life, at a mere seven years of age, Peekay must confront military and legal institutions-not as a peripheral visitor, but as an eye- witness of Doc's arrest and thus as an insider. Peekay reserves his own critical judgment of the cruel events he experiences (Doc's arrest, Klipkop's brutal treatment of the black prison servant) in order to allow the reader to draw her own conclusions. Peekay takes on the role of objective reporter or observer in these situations. However, he hints that his reserved behavior does not stem from disinterestedness--he realizes that survival in these settings depends on being diplomatic. Neither does the adult narrator withhold critique of the immorality of the prison world-his tone, often earnest, becomes ironic in his descriptions of the prison staff. After describing the office of the kommandant, with its stuffed gemsbok, eland, steenbok, and springbok heads, the narrator illustrates the kommandant himself, who claims to love wild animals. The narrator's precise descriptions--including, for example, the names of all the different kinds of buck on the kommandant's walls--stress the effect Doc has had on Peekay. Doc has taught Peekay how to observe, analyze, record. These skills will be vital to Peekay's success and survival throughout the novel.

There are other reasons why it is sensible for the narrator to unleash his criticism of the harsh, racist behavior in South Africa in a subtle, rather than direct manner. Firstly, The Power of One was written at a time when apartheid was still alive in South Africa. The author himself has to take a diplomatic tone. Secondly, the author does not wish readers to see the South African struggle as one between good and evil forces - he paints the prison staff as humans, not monsters. They have redeeming qualities. Klipkop, Lieutenant Smit, and Kommandant van Zyl are all extremely kind to Peekay. The officers who arrest Doc take a moment to have a cigarette. It is a human moment before their violent treatment of Doc. Moreover, Doc's ability to halt the brawling in the town square, with his beautiful rendition of Beethoven, suggests the triumph of our shared humanity. The chapter ends on an optimistic note when it intimates that a universal spirit holds us all together in spite of our myriad differences. This tone of optimism emerges as the novel's distinguishing tone. In spite of Peekay's portrayal of crude or violent behavior, his faith in the notion of "the power of one" lingers.